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Thursday, 24 January 2013


I've always naturally been a Europhile, and I've always believed in the importance of the European Union, not only as a natural consequence of the events of the 19th and 20th centuries, but also (through it's various mechanisms) to act as a conscience of the countries of Europe, curbing the selfishness that goes along with pursuing national interests.

I can trace these feelings and beliefs by looking back at my education and the experiences I had growing up with Europe and its people:

At Forfar Academy, if you studied History at Standard Grade and Higher, you could forget learning anything that happened prior to about 1830. It was very much a Modern History department. I'm not complaining. I enjoyed it, and it did provide a historical education that naturally segued into a political and social education in a way that learning about the Norman Conquest probably wouldn't have.*

In Modern Studies, which most of us didn't pursue beyond second year, my only abiding memory was learning about the structure of the EU and its associated bodies. I vividly remember a worksheet showing how the EU environment policy had prevented the destruction of wetlands as it had stood against a national body desiring to develop the area. For some reason, that stuck, and for a long time I associated the EU with being the protector of endangered birds and animals across the continent. A lone voice standing against the rampant desire of the developer to pave paradise and create some new parking lots. For a 15 year-old vegetarian, that was quite important.

Back to History, and we learned a lot about pre-1945 Europe. Through the Battlefields Tour, exchange trips with school and Guides, family holidays, and a compulsive need to collect pen-friends through those leaflets that would periodically arrive in children's magazines, I learned to love the countries of Europe and their inhabitants.

I had a French penpal, whose name I can't recall, but she had beautiful handwriting, and she sent me pictures of her cat. I had a Dutch penpal, I think her name began with E. She was a speed skater, and I was very jealous of this activity. Andreas (it's actually embarrassing that I remember his name, and not the penpals), was on the German exchange trip and we kissed at the edge of Forfar Loch. He gave me a necklace with a lion on it, because my star sign was Leo. Pontus and Frederick were two Swedish scouts, who stayed with us after the camping portion of the Swedish Scout exchange trip. They were exceedingly polite, and gave us a table runner in pale blues, pinks and creams as a gift. There was Mats (why can I only remember the boys' names?!), another Swedish scout, with ginger hair and freckles, and a smile that made my heart leap. And then there were family holidays: we went to Brittany one summer, and I gorged myself on chocolate and crepes. Or holidays with other families, cycling across CenterParcs, swimming every day, and agreeing that the national food of Holland was most likely clogs.

Later, at Uni, when I worked at the Balmoral Hotel, the waiting staff was comprised of students and young people on gap years. There were people from: France, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Australia, Brazil, Germany, and Norway. It was a great place to work.

I have nothing but fond memories, so vivid that I immediately recognised the centre square in Strasbourg when I caught a glimpse of it in a recent film, despite only having been there for a two day trip.

So, I've never thought really thought it's a bad thing that "Europe" decides some things in European parliaments and European courts, because I've never thought of "Europe" as a place that we are not part of. None of this talk about Europe imposing things on us resonates with me at all.

Why not?

It's not just because I studied history, or because I knew lots of Europeans not as "Europeans" but as French people, or Dutch people, or Swedish people. Athough, is that part of it? Probably.

And I suppose a significant part is that I was part of a youth delegation to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, during the parliament's summer recess. There were 14-16 year olds from all of the member states, and we each had a seat in the parliment, as though we were MEPs. We attended mini-conferences, and talked about problems facing the EU and how they could be overcome.

So, to me, it's always felt like a real parliament, with all the compromises that entails. There is no Europe, over there, trying to impose its will upon Britain, despite what the tabloids will have you believe. And if sometimes it feels like that, that's just because the other blocs are better at building consensus. Equally, sometimes Britain will be inside those blocs, enacting its own interests along with like-minded other countries.

In many ways, it's like being a Scottish MP, or a Scottish person, looking at Westminster.A small bloc, sometimes feeling hard done by, with locally devolved powers, but the requirement to make a contribution to a bigger whole, and sometimes feeling that you don't get enough back. Or being from London, like Boris Johnstone, and constantly whining that you contribute more than the North.

Both sections have valid reasons for thinking they'd be better off alone, but that doesn't mean they will be.

I've always felt reassured by our presence in Europe, and by the moderating and restraining action that the EU has had on all of its member states. I hope we don't leave.

*Despite that enjoyement, I had had my fill of the Bismarck, Corn Laws and Universal Suffrage, and Appeasement and the Road to War by 6th year. If you chose Sixth Year Studies, you could choose your own subject. It will come as no surprise to learn that my backlash against all this modern history was to go right back to the earliest possible point in British history that still had primary sources: the Roman occupation and the location of the Battle of Mons Graupius.


  1. I'm happy to hear this Lindsay, because believe me, the opinion of UK in Europe is at its lowest.

    Happy to know someone still believes in the project, there, across the channell

  2. Judging from this post, I would say it is fairly obvious why you remember the boys' names...